Mediating Cityscapes Through Totem Branding

A focus on service avatars and physical materiality allows us to rethink consumers’ distributed connections to services and place.

BERG wonders whether a simple object can mediate the complex set of relations that constitute our experience of the contemporary networked city. As ubiquitous computing increasingly encroaches upon us, the “city as computer” metaphor is gaining ever more currency.

Extending that metaphor, one can see the London Bicycle Scheme as hardware that is very specific to the locale of London City. Tom Armitage notes that the key one uses to unlock the bicycles provides an interface to the system and service, an interface which is useless when divorced from it’s locale. In that way the fob can be considered a service avatar

“…because these things are now connected, their value moves from the device to the service it represents, and the actual objects become secondary. They become what I call service avatars.”

But the key also encapsulates the system and references all the other systems it overlaps and intersects with throughout the urban scape of London. And thus, it is worth bearing in mind that the human ability to forge connections and associations between places operates via different sensibilities and registers than the means and protocols by which our cities will become increasingly networked in the near future.

“In San Francisco, it was a tangible reminder that London is still there, even though the key had no functionality in this particular city. Returned to London, the plastic key regains its powers, and returns to its normal behaviours: unlocking bicycles, capturing my usage of those bikes in its system. On my keyring, everywhere I go, I carry a piece of London.”

Read the entire piece at Berg: “Totems And City Avatars”

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